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My Visit to the Gem and Bead Show

The time honored method of learning how to identify antique jewelry is by handling a lot of it, learning from knowledgeable experts, and by studying it in books and museums. But, especially with older pieces like Georgian and early Victorian, how do you learn to distinguish the real stuff from fakes, also known as “reproductions”, when you don’t have a mentor and/or are in a market where genuine pieces may not be readily available to study?

One approach is to familiarize yourself with reproductions that are widely available for sale online and at jewelry and gem shows. While these pieces are being sold as “reproductions” by their manufacturers, they rapidly hit the secondary market as genuine antiques, sometimes by unscrupulous dealers and sometimes by people who genuinely believe they are old. This approach won’t necessarily teach you how to spot genuine antiques but it will help you learn to spot fakes. In Part One, I looked at what is available for sale online. In this article I am reporting what I found when I visited a large gem and bead show to see what was being offered as Georgian and Victorian reproduction jewelry.

In most large metropolitan areas gem and bead shows are held several times a year. In addition to being a good place to scope out reproduction jewelry, they are a great place to buy bulk findings for repairs, display props, and – of course – gems and beads. I went to a show run by Intergem but there are several other show organizers and, if you search online, you should be able to find the one nearest your home.

One advantage of going to a show is that you get to handle jewelry, get a sense of its weight and construction, and get to look it over carefully with a loupe. One disadvantage was that, while I took photos with the permission of the sellers, they were taken quickly, with poor lighting, and with a smartphone (which is my way of saying “please excuse the mediocre photos”).

Here is the front and back of a necklace/earring set in a hybrid style that is vaguely Georgian/vaguely Victorian:

Next is a pair of earrings whose front side is a better reproduction of Georgian jewelry:

 

 

The reason I am showing both of these pieces however is their backs: note how the backs have almost identical pierced metal. This style of back isn’t characteristic of either Georgian or Victorian jewelry; it is however characteristic of the work of some modern manufacturers making repros.

 

Here are the backs of two more pieces of jewelry: a Victorian style earring and a Georgian style portrait pendant:

 

 

 

Note how the settings of the stones are open-backed, have heavy castings and, once again, are almost identical. This type of small-holed, open backed setting is not characteristic of Georgian pieces and in the bottom piece, the combination of thin prongs, with an otherwise heavy setting, wouldn’t be found on a genuine Georgian piece.

Another common characteristics of these pieces (which doesn’t show up well in the photos) is that the tops are silver and the backs are gold washed. While diamonds are often set in silver in genuine antique jewelry – it was the main white metal used until platinum started to be used in the 1870s and white gold in 1915 – when jewelry was backed in gold, the gold generally consisted of either thin sheet or heavier gold, not gold wash.

 

Next examine the photo of a tray of earrings here and the tray of rings at the beginning of the article:

 

Looking at both you can begin to get a feel for some of the styles and characteristics of this jewelry: rough-cut, poor quality diamonds set in silver and surrounded with a dark oxidized or enamel surround, sometimes surrounded by smaller poor-quality stones. If you’re thinking that it looks a little bit like contemporary jewelry from India, you’re correct: all of the jewelry in these trays is from India.

Many of the items I looked at were lovely and well-priced; the manufacturer’s reps clearly took pride in their product and one even expressed dismay that they were being re-sold as genuine antiques. However, I want to point that NONE of the items that I looked at were signed by their manufacturers. If these manufacturers genuinely want to prevent their jewelry from being re-sold as antiques they could do so by signing their jewelry with a contemporary maker’s mark.

There’s still a lot of reproduction jewelry that I’d like to track down. On a recent buying trip I saw some paste pieces that I suspect are fakes: though they looked “right” when viewed in a display case, up close the settings seemed crude and the stones looked too uniform to be hand-cut. I also saw some reproduction Georgian solitaire earrings being sold. If I have any luck finding the source of these items I’ll follow up with another article.

Lisa Kramer of Lisa Kramer Vintage on Ruby Lane

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